For over 100 years, the Patriarch of Constantinople has been going against ancient canons, illicitly encroaching on the territories of other Patriarchates. They had been humiliated, losing almost their entire flock as a result of a war between Greece and Turkey. The only way to regain their former numbers, as well as their former income, was to take people and territory from other bishops.
"The preaching given from the pulpit of all the churches of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was no longer concerned with the truths of the Gospel, but only with the triumph of the party that had named the patriarch . . ."
The Orthodox History website recently published a fascinating piece titled, The Position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church, recounting an article written by then-Metropolitan Christophoros of Leontopolis (future Patriarch Christophoros II of Alexandria) in 1924. As stated in the introduction:
The article was written at a pivotal moment in Orthodox history, when the centuries-old order had just died a violent death, and Orthodoxy was entering a dangerous and uncertain future. . . .
In May 1919, the Greek Army invaded Turkey, setting off the ill-fated Greco-Turkish War. The Greeks, led by their Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, were earnestly pursing the “Megali Idea” (“Great Idea”) — the dream of a new Byzantine Empire, complete with the recapture of Constantinople. The war that followed was a disaster for the Greeks: the Turks won decisively, a pro-Venizelist revolution overthrew the Greek King, and the Treaty of Lausanne provided for a “population exchange” — the forced removal of Greeks from Turkey and Turks from Greece. The Ecumenical Patriarchate suddenly lost virtually its entire flock."
During this time, Meletios became Patriarch of Constantinople, and he brought about sweeping changes during his brief tenure of 20 months. In addition to introducing the New Calendar, and taking control of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, he also promoted a new interpretation of the 28th Canon from the Council of Chalcedon: the so-called "barbarian lands" theory, which assumes that the Ecumenical Patriarchate lays claim to all territories which are not part of another Orthodox Church.
This historical piece bears witness to the fact that the modern “barbarian lands” interpretation of Canon 28 (from the Council of Chalcedon) was only two years old when the article was written. In other words, it was an innovation created during the tenure of Meletios.
This fascinating historical piece is divided into three main sections:
I. Tendencies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate toward supremacy
II. The conduct of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is contrary to the canons and practice of the Church
III. Reasons for the current behavior of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Historically, the Patriarch of Constantinople only had jurisdiction over a limited territory. The article explains thus:
". . . the spiritual jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, according to the canons of the Church, did not extend beyond the dioceses of Pontus, Asia (today, Asia Minor) and Thrace, including the barbarian nations found in those dioceses, such as the Alans and the Russians; the former, neighbors of the Diocese of Pontus, and the latter, neighbors of that of Thrace."
The article goes on to describe the fraternal way in which the Patriarch of Constantinople normally interacted with his brother Patriarchs:
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, conforming to the order established by the holy canons, despite the radiance surrounding him, never had such strong pretenses. And, with regard to the patriarchs, his brothers, he never wanted to take on a haughty air . . .
Such is thus the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate relative to the other patriarchates according to the holy canons of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is purely fraternal. The four patriarchs are equal in dignity, in no way is one inferior to another. Each of them moves and acts within his own sphere, having as the rule for his action to deviate in nothing from the dogmas of Orthodoxy and from the order established by the holy canons and holy traditions. And, if there arose a transgression either against dogma, against the holy canons, or against ecclesiastical discipline, all the patriarchs intervened together. In general ecclesiastical questions, the patriarchs acted together and only decisions taken in common had the force of law in the Church. Thus was the case in the quarrel between Pope Nicholas of Rome and the Patriarch Photius; the latter, in an encyclical, denounced the pope to the three other patriarchs. There was the same joint action on the part of the four patriarchs during the Council of Florence. Likewise, when the Church of Russia was established as a patriarchate and when the Bulgarians were declared to be schismatic, all the patriarchs considered it indispensable to gather and take a common decision.
Unfortunately, after the loss of so much of its flock a century ago, the Patriarch of Constantinople began to overreach its proper boundaries, seeking to take control over people and territories not previously under its jurisdiction. The article articulates the problem thus:
What has the Ecumenical Patriarchate been able to decide in recent years? To depart from the good line of conduct that he had been following up to the present. To seize every country considered to be without a (religious) leader and to annex it to his own ecclesiastical territory. To interfere in the territories of the other autocephalous churches. And finally, to want, himself alone– that is, without the counsel of the other patriarchs– to pronounce on religious issues of a general nature and, in the case of disagreement with the other patriarchates, to desire that his opinion predominates and that it alone prevails.
. . . would it not be against all logic, at a moment when the Ecumenical Patriarchate is undergoing an ordeal and the enemy of all good has deprived it of all its ancient glory and humiliated it before the world? Would it not be completely unreasonable to claim a papal primacy in the Church and inconsiderately disdain every opinion coming from the three eastern patriarchates?
The original article is fascinating, and it contains a great number of specific details. We heartily commend it to the reader. The full article can be found at the following link: The Position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church
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